PROPOSED changes to the law to make it easier for parents to request Gaelic education in primary schools are “not strong enough”, MSPs have been told.
The Education Bill would require councils to look into a request from parents for Gaelic medium education, although they would not be obliged to provide it.
Council body Cosla has raised concerns about a lack of Gaelic language teachers and funding to meet the expected demand from parents.
But Magaidh Wentworth from parent organisation Comann nam Parant told Holyrood’s Education Committee that Gaelic education should be a legal right.
She was responding to a question from Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon, who asked the panel of witnesses whether they were concerned that SNP manifesto promises to look at introducing an entitlement to Gaelic medium education had been “watered down”.
Ms Scanlon said: “Are you quite content that what was promised as an entitlement to Gaelic has now, in my humble opinion, been watered down to become a process by which parental requests for Gaelic will be done, and even where an assessment has been made that sufficient demand and resources exist, there is still no requirement for a local authority to provide Gaelic?”
Ms Wentworth said: “We must remember that in many areas we need this process because local authorities are not supportive, they are not wishing to develop Gaelic medium education.
“There is a need for a legal right to Gaelic medium education.”
Ms Wentworth said parents were concerned that “weaknesses” in the proposed legislation “will be used as excuses not to do anything”.
Iain Campbell, chief executive of Bord na Gaidhlig, the body responsible for promoting and developing Gaelic language, added: “This Bill is not strong enough.
“The process is fine at one level but the Bill itself needs to be strengthened in many sections to make sure, as you say, that this isn’t just a bureaucratic process.
“I think we all want to see legal rights for Gaelic medium education, but there’s a time for that to be established and I don’t think we are at that point.”
Kenneth Murray, Gaelic development manager at Highland Council, said: “We must take a step-by-step approach, that’s how we see it, and this Bill is a significant step in that direction.”
Mr Campbell said there was “undoubtedly” a difficulty with a lack of Gaelic medium teachers but that progress was being made.
He also called for the Bill to be expanded to strengthen the links between early-years provision, primary and high school.